CLOSE
Original image
Filos96 via Wikipedia // Public Domain

Ancient Greek Curse Tablet

Original image
Filos96 via Wikipedia // Public Domain

Show & Tell is a mental_floss feature spotlighting notable and revealing items from museums and archives around the world. 

This curse tablet, or katadesmos, was written on a thin sheet of lead, then rolled like a scroll. It was discovered in the ruins at Pella (an ancient city in Macedonia) in 1986, and has been dated to the 4th century BCE; it’s now held at the Archaeological Museum at Pella. In its text, a lovelorn admirer (or possibly consort) of a man named Dionysophon tries to forestall his marriage to a woman named Thetima by petitioning the daimones, or spirits of the underworld, for their help. 

Of Thetima and Dionysophon the ritual wedding and the marriage I bind by a written spell, as well as (the marriage) of all other women (to him), both widows and maidens, but above all of Thetima; and I entrust this spell to Macron and to the daimones. And were I ever to unfold and read these words again after digging (the tablet) up, only then should Dionysophon marry, not before; may he indeed not take another woman than myself, but let me alone grow old by the side of Dionysophon and no one else. I implore you: have pity for [Phila?], dear daimones, [for I am bereft] of all my dear ones and abandoned. But please keep this (piece of writing) for my sake so that these events do not happen and wretched Thetima perishes miserably ... but let me become happy and blessed.

Both the ancient Greeks and the Romans used curse tablets, with examples having been found and dated to as early as the 5th century BCE. Curses were often inscribed on lead sheets like this one, taking advantage of a common byproduct of silver mining. The durability of the lead, as well as the practice of hiding such tablets in the ground (in graves, pits, or wells), has preserved many examples of this kind of everyday practical magic for our examination.

Because killing somebody who lived in the same community was frowned upon, the curse tablets didn’t often ask for the object of the curse to die outright, asking instead for their failure at some endeavor. “Most of the curses are what we call binding spells: they aim at binding or inhibiting the performance of a rival,” says scholar Christopher A. Faraone. “A lot of them have to do with legal cases. They say things like, ‘Bind the tongue and the thoughts of so-and-so, who is about to testify against me on Monday.’ We have some that are aimed at rival musicians or actors, and a couple that seem to be connected with athletics.” Given this context, it seems that the author of the Pella curse may have been asking for Thetima should “perish miserably”—alone and sad—when she does die, rather than asking for her immediate death. Or, perhaps, the author was desperate enough to make an unconventional request.

The Pella curse tablet was buried in the ground with a corpse—the idea being that the dead person would carry the curser’s desires down into the underworld with them, delivering a message to the underground gods. Faraone notes that 19th-century scholars of Greek religion misdated the curse tablets, preferring to believe that Greeks living in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE had turned away from chthonic (or underworld) religion, and toward a vision of gods who lived in the sky. “It was completely fallacious, but it fit in with 19th-century ideas about the evolution of religion,” Faraone says. “Now, a century or so later, modern scholars have a much more inclusive view of what constitutes Greek religion.”

Original image
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
Original image
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

Original image
iStock
arrow
holidays
Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
Original image
iStock

If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing

INGREDIENTS

1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios